FIRST-PERSON: Battling AIDS: biblical principle or billions of dollars?

ATHENS (BP)--In one of the many amphitheaters that dot the Athenian cityscape, several hundred people publicly took an international stand in support of sexual abstinence until marriage.

Ironic, considering that just a few blocks away in the Olympic village the athletes were at the midway point of what might be considered a two-week international orgy. What else could it be called when more than 130,000 condoms were supplied to the 17,000 participating athletes? The quantity is projected to remedy the shortage of available condoms that resulted during the 2000 Sydney Games when an emergency shipment of 20,000 had to be flown in during the last week.

Members of LifeWay Christian Resources' True Love Waits ministry team led the Aug. 22 rally in Greece. More than 3 million American young people have pledged to remain abstinent until marriage in the 10 years since True Love Waits began. The ministry is truly changing lives and impacting cultures.

There have been significant moral shifts among the young people of the world in countries like Uganda, South Africa, Thailand, the Philippines and Guyana, where True Love Waits has been a beacon of hope across landscapes ravaged by AIDS. Results in places like Uganda, where the annual rate of newly diagnosed cases of AIDS has decreased more than 80 percent in just over a decade (HIV/AIDS infection incidences per year have dropped from 30 percent to 5 percent according to the World Health Organization), prove that at the core, the problem is not financial, but spiritual.

Finances are needed to support such work as True Love Waits, but too often Americans think the prescription that remedies the world's ills comes in the color green. It's an unoriginal solution. The U.S. has spent millions on condom distribution and similar failed approaches.

What the world is facing is a sin problem.

Most political liberals -- and many conservatives -- don't see it that way. More so, the United States, a supposedly "godly" nation, is at the epicenter of the sin business. Our nation lives a double standard. On the one hand we are trying to solve the world's biggest crisis -- the exploding AIDS epidemic -- while being the world's largest sex exporter.

A few years ago I stood outside the National Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and had a conversation with a middle-aged Muslim man who was a bank executive. He wanted me to tell him honestly what Americans thought of middle-eastern Muslims. I told him we generally thought they were all fanatics with bombs strapped to their bodies blowing up buses and Marine barracks. He vehemently denied the generalization.

I returned the question. His impression of America was that we are a sex-crazed society infatuated with television's "Bay Watch" and that we all had Pamela Anderson posters pasted on our bedroom walls. Indicting. One of the reasons we're hated so much is because many countries see us as corrupting their cultures with the immorality in our music, movies and public policies. Tough to argue the point when evidence shows we are also damaging our own country with this same trash.

Organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the National Organization of Women worship the condom, seeing it as the solution for teen sexuality. The issue is not protection but sexual promiscuity. Any proposed solution other than the one God outlines in the Bible -- sex being within the boundaries of a marital relationship between one man and one woman -- misses the mark. But why should we expect teens to understand that principle and act like something other than animals when we teach them that they've evolved from animals?

Wouldn't it speak better of us across the globe if we invested in cultures -- including our own -- with an eye toward lasting change? Uganda was a dying country when International Mission Board missionaries Larry and Sharon Pumpelly introduced True Love Waits into that culture. A decade later there is hope. Young people can dream dreams and actually live to realize those dreams. That is true freedom and it is found only through a spiritual remedy that cures a social ill.

Abstinence is a call to a disciplined life based on a biblical precept. Bluntly stated, God expects His creation to practice self-control. That is a hard concept for a fallen world to comprehend, but true love truly does wait if we expect it to.

American Christian, if you want to make the world a better place and want the rest of the world to respect us, then start by standing with those assembled in an amphitheater in Athens. Start by taking a vocal and public stand in support of premarital sexual abstinence.

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Chris Turner, who attended the True Love Waits rally in Athens, is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and a former overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board.

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